President Obama often gets pilloried for being too willing to give in to the demands of political foes who have rebuffed his outreach at every turn. It’s a familiar refrain: Why won’t Obama say No? This time, Obama did just that:
The Obama administration will announce this afternoon that it is rejecting a Canadian firm’s application for a permit to build and operate the Keystone XL pipeline, a massive project that would have stretched from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas, according to people who have been briefed on the matter...
The effect of the administration’s move will probably be to delay the politically sensitive pipeline decision until after the presidential election — the second time it has postponed a final determination. Environmental groups have lobbied against the project, arguing that the difficult extraction of oil sands contributed to climate change and that the pipeline itself posed leak risks. Supporters of the pipeline say it will create jobs and enhance U.S. energy security by increasing oil supplies from a friendly neighbor.
Republicans are already blasting Obama for failing to stand up to his base — environmentalists had organized aggressively against the decision, and deserve tremendous credit for helping to make this outcome happen. Whether or not a fear of the base drove this decision, Obama did stand up to his Republican opponents.
When Congressional GOP leaders initially tied the Keystone approval decision to the debate over whether to extend the payroll tax cut, Republicans — and some neutral commentators, too — confidently predicted that Obama would not be able to oppose the pipeline, because he would be nixing jobs heading into an election year. It didn’t matter that an independent study cast doubt on how many jobs the probject would create; this was seen as a sure loser for the president.
But even some proponents of the project say that by attempting to box Obama in, Republicans ended up making it more likely that the Presient would call the GOP bluff and shoot down the project, the political consequences be damned. As John Engler, a pipelne backer and former Michigan governor who is now head of the Business Roundtable, put it last week: “No chief executive likes to be painted into a corner by anybody.”
The politics of this going forward are murky. Republicans will hammer Obama relentlessly as a “job killer” who puts the whims of pointy-headed greenies before the interests of the American worker. One question is whether the media will uncritically report on the GOP’s argument without pointing to doubts about the number of jobs the pipeline would have created, and without noting the larger context, which is that Republicans have opposed virtually every job-creation policy Obama has proposed in the last year. Also: Will the fact that the state department warned that it could be forced to reject the pipeline if Republicans insisted on an expedited decision vanish down the memory hole?
Liberals who are understandably dispirited about aspects of the Obama presidency have seen at least a few things get done lately that they can be happy about, such as the new EPA standards on emissions and the smoothing of the path to green cards for many thousands of illegal immigrants. This is another one of those things.